The AAP’s New Stance on Food Allergies

About 50 million children in the US suffer from allergies, some of them very severe. Many new parents are extremely concerned about potential allergies in their children, and how to proceed cautiously with potentially allergenic foods, such as peanuts, shellfish, milk and eggs. As food allergies tend to be the most severe and potentially life-threatening, a great deal of research has been focused on how to reduce the risk. The AAP offers several recommendations.

When to Introduce Allergenic Foods

The AAP previously recommended delaying the introduction of potentially allergenic foods to a baby to prevent allergies. Recent research, however, refutes this. Previous recommendations were to avoid allergenic foods during pregnancy and through the first 2 years of life. In fact, the results might be the opposite – eating these foods during pregnancy and introducing children to them earlier may actually reduce the risk of allergies in the child. The current evidence at the very least does not support any benefit to avoiding these foods.

There is an exception to these guidelines; if there is a family history of severe food allergies, especially if the parents or siblings have allergies, it’s still a good idea to follow the old rules, and avoid exposure. Children with a genetic predisposition to food allergies should try the baby foods in question cautiously and at an older age, when they are stronger and more able to recover from a reaction.

If you are concerned about allergies, talk to your doctor to find out what the best path is for you, both during pregnancy and when your baby is born. Every case is a little different, and talking to your doctor can help you make sense of how the recommendations apply to you.

One of the best things a mother can do to prevent her baby from developing allergies is to breastfeed the baby for at least the first four months. Babies who are breastfed are less likely to have not only food allergies, but other types of allergies as well. This effect is most pronounced in children with a high risk for allergies. There is also no evidence that avoiding allergenic foods during lactation prevents or reduces the risk of allergies in the baby.

Does Your Baby Have an Allergy?

It can be hard to tell if the reaction is mild, so if you suspect an allergy, see your baby’s doctor. Not all allergic reactions will be serious or life-threatening, but an initial mild reaction does not mean that the next reaction won’t be stronger. If you notice anything strange after your baby has eaten a new food for the first time, such as a diaper rash, rash on the skin, upset stomach including strange bowel movements or vomiting, call your baby’s doctor. Avoid the food in question until you have talked it over with a medical professional.

In order to make it clear which foods are the culprits, be sure to introduce new foods one at a time, and wait a few days in between new foods. This way, you can tell which food is responsible for the reaction. You may not see a reaction the first time your baby tries the food, either. Sometimes the allergic reaction does not occur until the second or third time the food is ingested, which is why several days should be allowed in between adding to baby’s diet.

If your baby does develop an allergy, you may not have to avoid the food forever. Many childhood allergies are outgrown in time, but be cautious about re-introducing the food, should you choose to do so. If your child has not outgrown the allergy, a strong reaction is possible.

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